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The Guilfoile-Warner Papers

The Huckaboom and the Obamawagon

In the weeks before the 2004 election, Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner opped and edded their way through the debates, issues, and differences in hair. With just 299 days left in the 2008 race, they sharpen their quills.


It seems like just yesterday when we were last punditicating about national electoral politics, but not only does the calendar say it’s been three years, in looking back at our final installment of the 2004 election cycle, I see that within the space of two paragraphs I made jokes about three now-defunct entities: The O.C., Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and the NHL.

I’ve recently realized that for me, politics are essentially the same as sports, constantly absorbing and fascinating yet inevitably disappointing, kind of like Jessica Alba. I’d like to blame the mainstream media and their focus on the “horse race” aspect of politics for my obsession, but like all the kids these days, I get my news from the internet and The Daily Show.

I write this the morning of Iowa’s caucus day, before the first door is thrown open in a school cafetorium, and the official line is that the results of both parties are up in the air.

According to Peggy Noonan, what Americans want is someone “reasonable”:

This is my 2008 slogan: Reasonable Person for President. That is my hope, what I ask Iowa to produce, and I claim here to speak for thousands, millions. We are grown-ups, we know our country needs greatness, but we do not expect it and will settle at the moment for good. We just want a reasonable person. We would like a candidate who does not appear to be obviously insane. We’d like knowledge, judgment, a prudent understanding of the world and of the ways and histories of the men and women in it.

This is a perfectly “reasonable” way of selecting a candidate, but later in the column she declares Rudy Giuliani “reasonable,” while in reality, Rudy is the closest candidate to “obviously insane” this side of Alan Keyes. Rudy is now explicitly running on the “more war” platform and one of his chief foreign policy advisors, Norman Podhoretz, “prays” that President Bush bombs Iran before he leaves office.

The only thing more dangerous to the continuation of the human race than a Giuliani presidency would be a Cylon invasion.

Thankfully, Rudy is tanking in the polls just as unreasonable candidate 1a Mike Huckabee rises. Huckabee equated homosexuality with necrophilia. He crossed the writers’ picket line to go on Leno. He wants to sink the economy with a national sales tax. He thinks Caroline in the City is the greatest sitcom of all time. He makes a weird face when he plays bass. Not reasonable.

The other Republican who seems to have had a shot in Iowa is Mitt Romney. Romney has been on the air in my home state of South Carolina for months and the only word that pops into my head every time I see him is “douche.” Trust me, America, we don’t want to elect a douche president.

The winner for the Republicans? John McCain. He’ll beat expectations and as a non-douche, non-dummy, he’ll emerge as the most electable Republican candidate.

On the Democrat side, anyone but Hillary, please. I’ve voted for a Democrat in every election since ‘88 when I couldn’t bring myself to support Dukakis (eyebrows, not reasonable), but I can’t envision voting for Hillary, unless she’s up against Romney, Huckabee, or Giuliani, of course.

Tell me, Kevin, why do I hate Hillary?


* * *


The last actual fight I had with any member of my immediate family was about 10 years ago and the point in dispute was why I didn’t hate Hillary Clinton with the heat of a thousand Taser-wielding bros. I don’t think I said that I loved Hillary or even that I liked her all that much, just that the very idea of her did not incite me toward bunny violence. Half the country hates her for unspecified reasons and the other half is just uninspired by her. So naturally she’s the frontrunner.

But what is it that people hate about her? That she’s ambitious? If you’re looking for an unambitious candidate, you’ve actually got a man this time around. Fred Thompson is running for president with the enthusiasm of a nine-year-old shopping for Sunday pants.

As an Illinoisan, I’m still on the home-state Obamawagon, in part because his name fits so comfortably into motivational nonsense verse (“Pajama Wilmer Valderamma, give ‘em hell, Barack Obama”). I have to admit that I didn’t vote for Obama in the Democratic primary when he first ran for the U.S. Senate because he was running against a college buddy of mine. But Obama came out of nowhere and dominated that election and he’s the first candidate in my voting lifetime that I think has the chance to actually inspire people and maybe even make us feel warm-and-goofy about government in the way of that one West Wing where Josh and Toby go drinking in an Indiana bar and figure out on their own how to make college tuition tax-deductible for everyone. That might be crazy for me to say and we could be laughing about it four years hence as every ranking member of his administration is facing indictment, but I believe it now. Obama might not be unlike anyone who has run for president in the last 40 years, but he’s unlike anyone who has had an actual chance to be president in the last 40 years, and that’s reason enough for me to love him. That alone gives me hope.

(Also, once he’s president, my college buddy can run for his Senate seat and then those fat no-bid government humorist contracts will start rolling my way. Humor or sanitation. I do both.)

Here’s what scares me about Huckabee. Did you see him on Leno? He was pretty good, by which I mean he came off as entirely non-douche-like. He was funny and self-effacing and showed pictures of himself when he was a fatty, which everyone loves. He was competent playing the bass guitar, which is way cooler than being competent playing the sax. You can easily see large numbers of people completely disregarding the fact that he has ideas that are both insane and unintelligible and that he will be completely beholden to a constituency that is incredibly powerful and shockingly ignorant.

When that constituency has an amiable (entirely un-ape-like, if you ask him) face like Huckabee’s, it can be easy to forget that ignorant people with too much power is exactly what we’re fighting in the post-9/11 world.

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I went to a taping of the NPR program Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! and the guests were talking onstage about an earlier appearance Huckabee made on that show. Advice columnist Amy Dickinson was trying to explain to comedian Paula Poundstone that Huckabee had been charming and smart and funny on the show. “He could open for you, Paula!” Dickinson said with some seriousness. To which Poundstone replied, “But don’t you see that opening for me and being president of the United States require completely different skills?” Given the state of the American electorate, that might be the most important piece of political commentary anyone will make in the next year.

I think Giuliani’s insanity is becoming more and more apparent. Even the stuff I used to like about him—for instance, his self-parodying appearances on Saturday Night Live—now seem like the absinthe-fueled ravings of a Victorian madman. As detailed in The New Yorker last week, Giuliani completely botched New York’s emergency preparedness program and is now running for president as the 9/11 mayor. The Giuliani campaign is the result of the same delusional miscalculation that’s causing Amy Fisher to market a sex tape. Amy Fisher isn’t famous for being sexy. She’s famous for being a bad shot.

I’ve always liked McCain, not because I always agree with him, but I respect him a lot. I wouldn’t start cutting myself in the event of a McCain administration. I like Edwards too, except when I remember that he was a personal injury attorney and then I start to retch like a child who’s just discovered a canned pea hidden in his mashed potatoes.

A late run by Michael Bloomberg might make things interesting. Bloomberg could take the “He’s rich so he must know something” vote away from Romney and the “Mayor of New York is the best training for president” vote away from Giuliani, if he’s even still relevant at that point. Too bad for Bloomberg Article II Section One of the Constitution specifies “…neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, nor to the height of Ryan Seacrest.”


* * *


I actually admire Thompson’s attitude. He does seem to be saying, “Do I have to?” every time somebody makes him engage in campaign silliness. We could do worse than a president who thinks it’s unseemly to campaign for the office. He may be the Allen Iverson of politics: no practice, all game. (“Campaigning! We’re talkin’ about campaigning. Not governing…campaigning.”)

The Huckabee rise has been particularly enjoyable since it has really sent the establishment Republicans reeling as Frankenrove’s monster has gotten off the table and begun telling one-liners apparently good enough for a Friday night at the Naperville Chuckle Hut, and garnering support despite his policy pronouncements making about as much sense as a 13-year-old on a Robitussin bender. He’s also kicked out one or even two legs of the traditional Republican stool, since his economic populism is to the left of everyone running save John Edwards. Watching the small-government conservatives (except for the Department of Defense) treat him like Cousin Eddie showing up at the Griswold Christmas to dump his “Christian leader” message into the Republican sewer system is great fun.

I too am an Obama backer, but maybe we’ve both been bamboozled by the “hopemonger.” In some corners Obama is criticized for running a substance-free campaign, and to some extent I think Obama supporters and Huckabee supporters are both buying into an image more than any specific policies. When I watch a video of a Hillary speech I feel overwhelmingly weary. If I re-watch this part of Obama’s 2004 convention speech

We worship an “awesome God” in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

…I get a little misty-eyed. I actually believe in that shit, except for the God part, which I’m not really sure about. I resonate to Obama’s message the same way that Huckabee’s supporters resonate to his “Christian leader” shtick. Obama has the bonus of believing in science.

I write this before any caucus returns have come in, but I think tonight will show that policy plans not only matter little in winning elections, I’m going to go ahead and say that they matter very little in actual governance. You know what they say, too much cheese leaves your bowels all bound up, and plans only last as long as the first contact with the enemy. The meme in 2000 was Gush v. Bore since their policies seemed so similar, but is there any doubt we’d be looking at a very different world if Gore had been president for the last eight years? Wasn’t Bill Clinton’s presidency arguably more “conservative” than George W. Bush’s?

We’re electing a leader, and I think the question people ask themselves is: “Who do I want to lead me?” I think Gore would have made one of the better presidents of our time, but the contempt he was held in by much of the media and half the country convinced people they couldn’t stand to have him in the spotlight for four (or eight) years. I think too many of us feel the same about Hillary, which is ultimately going to sink her chance to win.


* * *


It’s now the morning after the Iowa caucuses and Britney Spears, overcome with emotion after Mike Huckabee’s stunning win, has been hospitalized with the vapors.

Obama’s win thrills me, but it scares me, too. Clearly you can peak too early in these things and I worry about Obama maintaining momentum as a frontrunner. The conventions are eight months away and eight months ago, if you remember, MySpace was still kind of cool.

I think you’re right about leadership. I went to one of those websites where you declare your unambiguous position on a number of arbitrary issues and they select the candidate who is most in line with your views. This one says I should like former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, and maybe that’s true. I’ve always felt a kinship with Alaskans in that I like fish and I’m always kind of cold. According to Wikipedia, Gravel once married “Miss Fur Rendezvous of 1958” and won a longshot bid for the Senate after producing a half-hour biographical film that was shown frequently “on home projectors in many Eskimo villages.” But I wouldn’t vote for him for president. You don’t vote for the American president based on a checklist of things on which the two of you more or less agree. For me it’s about identifying the person I want representing this country to the world. About finding someone I trust to make important decisions under unimaginable pressure. It’s about who I want to lead me, as you say. Who has a philosophy I respect? A vision that can inspire me?

I want the candidate with enough intelligence, charisma, and imagination to get with the current Miss Fur Rendezvous, and it’s undeniable that Michelle Obama would look good in mink.

I mean if it weren’t murder, of course.

TMN Contributing Writer John Warner is the author of the preeminent guide to winning the race for the Oval Office, So You Want to Be President?, and is Chief Creative Czar of TOW Books. He teaches at the College of Charleston.

TMN Contributing Writer Kevin Guilfoile’s debut thriller, Cast of Shadows, was named one of the Best Books of 2005 by the Chicago Tribune and the Kansas City Star. His humor has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Maxim, and The New Republic. More by Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner